Project Pigeon

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During World War II, Project Pigeon (later Project Orcon, for "organic control") was American behaviorist B.F. Skinner's attempt to develop a pigeon-guided missile.[1]

The control system involved an array of up to three lenses at the front of the missile – using the same National Bureau of Standards-developed, unpowered airframe later used for the onboard radar-guided US Navy Bat glide missile – projecting an image of the target to a screen inside, while one to three pigeons trained (by operant conditioning) to recognize the target pecked at it. As long as the pecks remained in the center of the screen, the missile would fly straight, but pecks off-center would cause the screen to tilt, which would then, via a connection to the missile's flight controls, cause the missile to change course and slowly change the flight path towards its designated target.

The National Defense Research Committee saw the idea to use pigeons in glide bombs as very eccentric and impractical, but still contributed $25,000 to the research. Skinner, who had some success with the training, complained "our problem was no one would take us seriously."[2] The program was canceled on October 8, 1944, because the military believed that "further prosecution of this project would seriously delay others which in the minds of the Division have more immediate promise of combat application."

Project Pigeon was revived by the Navy in 1948 as "Project Orcon"; it was canceled in 1953 when the reliability of electronic guidance systems was proven.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Top secret weapons revealed". Military Channel. 2012-08-14. 
  2. ^ "Skinner's Utopia: Panacea, or Path to Hell?". TIME Magazine. September 20, 1971. 

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